The Prophets of Smoked Meat author Daniel Vaughn wasn’t born in Texas; he chose Texas. There’s no one quite as fanatical as a convert, and Vaughn is exactly that: born in Ohio, Vaughn moved to Dallas for his job at an architectural firm, trading whatever the hell they eat in Ohio for the barbecue Texas trinity of brisket, beef ribs, and sausage links.
Now, he’s Texas Monthly’s full-time barbecue editor; in fact, he’s the only barbecue editor in the United States, and the only full-time barbecue editor in American history. Let’s put it this way: the man is qualified to write the definitive book on Texas barbecue. Anthony Bourdain seems to agree, given that The Prophets of Smoked Meat ($30) is the first book of his new imprint at Ecco.
The Prophets of Smoked Meat is made up of a half-dozen interesting little parts surrounding the books imposing main section: an eating tour of hundreds of barbecues around Texas. Let’s take care of the bits first.
The Prophets of Smoked Meat starts off with a map of Texas, delineated by its highways and two hundred and two barbecues, each indicated with a colour coded marker showing said barbecue’s main source of fuel (i.e., hickory, mesquite, pecan, varieties of oak, charcoal, or a mix). The is followed by an introduction that lays out the major styles of Texas barbecue with the same intelligence and forthright style Scotch drinkers talk about whisky regions. The main section is intercut with sidebars on everything a smoked meat glutton might like to know: fat, rotisserie ovens, smoking wood. The book finishes with profiles of notable pitmasters, along with a recipe from each and some general tips. Why should they be so candid with trade secrets? Because great barbecue doesn’t rely on secret ingredients—it relies on great technique.
Now, down to brass tacks. The main section of The Prophets of Smoked Meat is a dizzying journal of eight massive eating tours Daniel Vaughn took of various regions of Texas, along with his photographer, Nicholas McWhirter, whose gorgeous and lush work permeates the book: scenes of pitmasters at work, a generous amount of food porn, and the rolling landscape of Texas itself. Vaughn’s quest takes us through all the permutations of barbecue, from perfect fatty brisket worth waiting two hours in line at Franklin Barbecue to East Texas style links to the Mexican border tradition of barbacoa. Along the way, he reviews hundreds of barbecues, giving honest appraisals that aren’t shy of gushing about a great spot or calling out bad, dry barbecue. It can get a bit overwhelming and monotonous, reading review after review, but that’s because I read the whole thing in one sitting. I read the way I eat, and apologize for nothing.
One final thing: Vaughn leaves us with a short list of five can’t-go-wrong barbecue spots. That way you have five essential destinations in case you’re planning your own Texas barbecue pilgrimage—and, if you read The Prophets of Smoked Meat, you will be.
Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.